International basketball: Local athlete wins gold for American Samoa

Katie Peneueta and teammates take title at Pacific Games

Katie Peneueta got a golden opportunity, and then she won gold.

Peneueta, who is preparing for her junior year at Heritage High School, spent most of July in the South Pacific, helping American Samoa win gold in women’s basketball at the Pacific Games.

International basketball: Local athlete wins gold for American Samoa
Katie Peneueta, center, is a three-sport athlete at Heritage High School. She was the only high school athlete on the women’s team for American Samoa, which recently won gold at the Pacific Games. Photo courtesy of Katie Peneueta

“It was definitely an honor to be able to play, to represent my island and my family,” Peneueta said. “My family is a big part of it. It was an honor and humbling to have the opportunity to play for them.”

Peneueta, a 6-foot-2 post, was born in Vancouver. Her father, J.R., was born and raised in American Samoa. That made Katie eligible to participate.

Then she and her teammates made history, becoming the first team from the island, a U.S. territory, to win it all at the Pacific Games.

American Samoa went 3-0 in pool play against Guam, Tahiti, and Papua New Guinea, then beat Samoa in bracket play to advance to the finals. 

Peneueta started the gold medal game, helping her team to a 74-53 win over defending champion Fiji. She scored two points plus had eight rebounds and one blocked shot in the finals. She had 11 rebounds and five points the semifinals. 

“I think I did pretty well,” she said, noting that is has taken her a while in her basketball career to understand that scoring is not everything.

“You can contribute in other ways,” she said. “Play good defense, get rebounds, and be a great competitor on the court, and hustle.”

This was not a youth tournament, or an international high school event. This was a women’s basketball competition. Peneueta was the only high school athlete on the team. The rest of the team was filled by current college basketball players or former college basketball players. Some are professionals in different parts of the world.

“It was crazy for me to play with them and call them my teammates,” Peneueta said. “I was a little intimidated playing with them, to be honest. It was a very good experience to see what the next level will look like.”

International basketball: Local athlete wins gold for American Samoa
Katie Peneueta of Vancouver (second from left, front row, behind the flag) shows off her gold medal after she helped American Samoa win the women’s basketball title in the Pacific Games last week. Photo courtesy of Katie Peneueta

Many of the players came from all over the United States. They met for the first time during a layover in Hawaii on the way to the Pacific Games. Just like that, though, they were one.

“It was immediate. It was like we had known each other before,” she said. “It was like we knew what our future had in store for us.”

Even the young one, the high schooler, was accepted.

“They were all so much older than me, but they opened up to me like I was a little sister,” Peneueta said. “They made me feel so welcome.”

Peneueta said American Samoa coaches try to keep tabs on any American player who could be eligible to compete. The coaches had watched video of her playing at Heritage and with her AAU team. Peneueta is not just tall, she is an accomplished athlete. She competes in volleyball, basketball, and track and field in high school. She qualified for the state meet in javelin this spring. We featured her after an Olympian talked her into competing in javelin: 

Still, she said she was “in shock” when the basketball coaches contacted her and asked if she would be willing to spend July with the American Samoa team. 

Now, she is a champion.

“It was one of the greatest experiences in my life,” she said.

There could be more just like it, too. Peneueta is 15 years old, so there is a lot of basketball in her future. She said she is hoping that wherever she ends up playing college athletics, that program will understand her opportunity to play with American Samoa and be flexible with her schedule. 

Only time will tell. For now, though, Peneueta is celebrating her team’s victory and appreciating her summer of gold.

“I really gained a whole new family,” Peneueta said. “It was just so amazing to be part of that.”

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